Archive for March, 2011

Dell Embedded Systems Management updates

Over at the Dell TechCenter, Peter Tsai has posted a great update on some of the features of the latest firmware updates to the Dell Blade Chasis Management Controller 3.2 including 10gb Ethernet support and enablement; LifeCycle Controller 1.5 updates including complete out-of-band backup and restore, and config management support for Converged Network Adapters; and finally iDrac 1.6 updates.

Head over to the TechCenter page for the complete list of features plus a link to some new whitepapers. I have to say though, the best reason to head over there is to watch the video they did of the new LifeCycle controller feature to backup and restore feature during a motherboard replacement. The LC features uses WS-MAN to completely take a copy of all the configuration, drivers etc. so that when the motherboard is replaced it can be restored along with the Broadcom Nic, PERC and ServiceTag and Asset Tag making it in essence indistinguishable from the original. Brilliant.

New VIS Blog/web sites

A couple of new VIS related web sites to be aware of.

First up there’s a new converged infrastructure web site on dell.com – It’s a great launch point to get an overview and links to the complete space we are working on under the VIS umbrella.

Second, as part of it’s Ziff Davis Enterprise web site, dell has sponsored the Dell Virtual Integrated System blog, written by Sean Gallagher. This isn’t product specific but covers some useful supporting, background and industry news.

Large-scale Software Engineering at High Speed

I very much enjoyed presenting the Distinguished Lecture at this years Texas A&M Industrial Affiliates Program, and have uploaded my slides to slideshare.net. I had the opportunity to review and judge a number of the under grad and doctorate poster sessions, and was impressed with both the breadth of the ideas being explored and the depth of the doctoral thesis topics. Some very imaginative projects. I liked a couple so much I’m going to make an effort to get them in as summer interns here at Dell.

Visiting Universities and especially Computer Science classes is always fascinating, any trends that are going to happen are often really visible in this type of environment. What I noticed, and I shouldn’t have been surprised, was a number of this year under-grad class with projects using Android phones and bluetooth, combined with GPS. There were proximity projects, location awareness projects, directions finding projects and more. None really required a GSM contract.

What this indicates is that Android based mobile phones are becoming generalized computing platforms, not just smart phones. Of course, if they are doing this at Texas A&M, similar projects will be running at other universities all over the world. The knowledge, education and development in this space will push the next generation apps, often around the same platform. Back in 1998, I visited Warwick and a number of other Universities and this convinced me Linux was coming.

Today, we’re in an era where speed is of the essence.

  • It’s critical for competitive reasons to stay ahead of the competition.
  • The customer expectation for the Internet is much higher.

Engineering is a discipline.

  • Foundation: I look for people who have a firm foundation in engineering and treat it like a discipline
  • Definition: Look up engineering on Wikipedia and the first descriptive word behind it is discipline (followed by art and profession)
  • Software: Software is NOT [treated like] an engineering discipline today.[It’s all about invention]
  • Discipline: The key to success: We have to get better as a profession at treating software engineering like a discipline.

Culture is critical.

  • Garage band?: The days of four or five people starting out of their garage and working that way is less common now[in the enterprise app space, but increasing IS in the personal space].
  • Big=global. Most big projects are globally distributed and developed.
  • Global differences. The attitude and approach of teams in the USA, India, and China will be vastly different.
  • Play to cultural strengths. Adapt to cultural strengths — understand, and use them to your benefit.

Process matters.

  • The “how”: It’s not just what you’re doing, but how you do it.
  • No surprises: Good ≠ good; Bad ≠ bad
  • Communicate: Overcommunicate if needed, but make sure people understand and are aligned.
  • Incremental works: Let people see checkpoints where they can gauge progress and give individual groups/teams a chance to report out. You don’t need everyone to review.

Architecture must support the engineering.

  • No roadblock: Architecture can’t get in the way of engineering/development.
  • Good architecture: Allows people to work effectively in a globally distributed environment.
  • Vertical no more: Silos were the old way; technology grew up vertically.
  • Alignment: The way people think about constructing systems needs to match the engineering.
  • x86 and Cloud: Both allow for globally distributed environment (open source is another example)

Customer First: Dells Software Approach

  • Starting anew: Starting and building from scratch
  • Integration: It’s all about bringing elements together
  • Customer choice: We’re taking a different approach, delivering customer choice through open, horizontal integration (customers can choose hardware – storage, networking – and hypervisor)

Thanks to Michael Conway in Dell Product Group for helping me crystallize my thoughts into a concise structure for the slides. Also to Dr Valerie Taylor, Department Head and Royce E. Wisenbaker Professorship in Engineering at Texas A&M for the invitation and for hosting my visit.

As always, if you have any comments or feedback, please feel free to post here, or via email.

Dell Management Plug-in for VMware vCenter ordering online

Back when we announced this there wasn’t an easy link to order online. We’ve added some tags to the category index that now returns them as part of a standard uri. You can click on this link and go there directly. Note that the usual caveats apply to the prices, discounts, corporate licenses etc. all effect the actual price you pay…

We are working on the HLD for the 2nd release, I’d really like to hear back from anyone that uses or tries it. You can either post here, or email me direct, email address top right.

Dell joins Yocto project

Openembedded logoOne of the key activities here, outside of the VIS orchestration, automation engine has been the work around our embedded software stack and where we are heading next. Today we committed to joining the Yocto project, which will be aligned with the OpenEmbedded build system.

The Linux Foundation announced today, via Press Release that Dell+Cavium Networks, Freescale Semiconductor, Intel, LSI, Mentor Graphics, Mindspeed, MontaVista Software, NetLogic Microsystems, RidgeRun, Texas Instruments, Tilera, Timesys, and Wind River, among others would collaborate on a cross-compile environment enabling the development of “a complete Linux Distribution for embedded systems, with the initial target systems being ARM, MIPS, PowerPC and x86 (32 and 64 Bit).

I’m hopeful that this will allow our guys to continue their SDK work, allowing us to move core product technologies between chip architectures, while at the same time contributing back as we innovate around the Linux platform, while building out the the software build recipes and core Linux components, preventing fragmentation.

Texas A&M IAP Distinguished Lecture

I guess it had to happen eventually, after a hiatus of some 3 1/2 -years, I’m going to be giving a public presentation again. I’m super excited to say that I’ve been given the honor of giving the Texas A&M University distinguished lecture and part of the Computer Science and Computer Engineering, Industrial Affiliates Program (IAP).

I’ll be up at Texas A&M on both March 8th for the presentation and the Undergraduate Design Project Posters, Reception and Banquet. My session is “Large-Scale Software Engineering at High Speed” and you can find a full abstract here.

I will make the slides available via slideshare.net, but if you are a student or in the area, it would be great to see you at the event.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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